Four Economic Issues That Should Take Center Stage At The CNBC GOP Debate

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The first Republican presidential debate hosted by a business-themed television network presents an opportunity for debate moderators to closely examine the economic policy positions and records of the GOP field.

On October 28, CNBC will host the third GOP primary debate, which will be split into two parts. The top 10 polling GOP contenders -- Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Rand Paul -- will participate in a two-hour primetime debate, while four other GOP candidates -- Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, and Rick Santorum -- will participate in a debate a few hours earlier. Both debates will be moderated by CNBC anchors Carl Quintanilla and Becky Quick, and CNBC Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood.

According to an October 21 CNBC press release, the debate "will focus on the key issues that matter to all voters -- job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy."

Below are four suggestions for how CNBC's moderators can press the GOP field about the intersections between the economy and: money in politics, climate change, tax cuts for the wealthy, and immigration reform.

1. Ask The GOP Field About The Out-Of-Control Campaign Financing System And Their Support For Citizens United

The growing crisis of barely-regulated money in politics in the wake of the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision was brought into stark relief by a recent New York Times report which found that "[j]ust 158 families have provided nearly half the early money for efforts to capture the White House." According to Media Matters analysis, since March 23, a total of 52 segments on CNBC discussed issues related to money in politics, but campaign finance reform was mentioned just once. CNBC should ask candidates about our country's broken campaign finance system not just because 78 percent of Americans polled favor overturning Citizens United, but also because unlimited campaign contributions help shape negative economic policy outcomes According to a May 2014 issue brief by the Center for American Progress, campaign contributions and lobbying can significantly increase "rent-seeking," which economists agree "causes a net societal loss that harms the economy." And if CNBC moderators need another reason to ask the candidates about money in politics, they should just look around: the GOP debate will be held at the University of Colorado's Coors Events Center, a venue so-named because of a sizeable contribution made by the Adolph Coors Foundation, an organization involved in funneling dark money to conservative causes.

2. Ask The Candidates About The Call From Leading Businesses And Financial Leaders For Action On Climate Change

Here is what recent research suggests: Climate change-fueled wildfires are already straining the budgets of Western states, climate change could reduce the United States' per capita GDP by 36 percent by 2100, and more than $1 trillion worth of property and structures are presently at risk from climate change-fueled sea level rise. The severe economic risks associated with climate change should be more than enough reason for CNBC moderators to question the GOP field about this urgent issue, which could drastically impact businesses of all sizes. Climate change recently became part of the 2016 campaign in a significant way when battleground incumbent Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH)  announced her support for the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, citing the interests of the New Hampshire business community. Ayotte joined a group of major corporations and financial decision makers, including 81 signatories to the American Business Act on Climate Change Pledge, mega food companies such as General Mills, Kellogg Company, Mars, Inc., and Nestle USA, leading banking institutions including Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo, and many other major corporations. Asking the GOP field about the economic consequences of climate change would also be an opportunity for the network to improve its coverage of the issue. According to a Media Matters analysis of the first nine months of 2013, more than half of CNBC's coverage of the issue included climate science denial.

3. Ask GOP Contenders How They Can Call Their Tax Plans "Populist" When They Overwhelmingly Benefit The Wealthy

Throughout the 2016 presidential primary campaign, GOP candidates have routinely pitched their tax plans as "populist," despite the fact that each and every proposal disproportionately benefits the wealthy. And media have fallen for the claim time and time again. When Donald Trump announced his plan on September 28, Politico claimed in a headline that the billionaire businessman planned to "hike taxes on the wealthy" -- even though the plan calls for cutting the top marginal tax rate, cutting the corporate income tax rate, and eliminating the estate tax. The media outlet had relied solely on Trump's false characterization of his plan to write that headline. In an October 14 article in The New York Times, debate co-moderator Harwood criticized several candidates for describing themselves in populist terms but "sh[ying] away from economic populism," while crafting tax policies that "deliver disproportionate gains to the most affluent." During the debate, Harwood should continue to hold the candidates to this same standard, pushing them to accurately explain what their tax reform plans do and who they benefit.

4. Do Not Let The Candidates Cite Fake Conservative Media Statistics On The Impact Of Immigration On The Economy

Falsehoods about immigration routinely begin as conservative media claims before becoming talking points used by GOP presidential candidates. CNBC should be on the lookout for several common false claims about immigration and the economy, and be prepared to factcheck fabricated statistics on the issue. Conservative media often claim that deporting undocumented immigrants would help the economy by saving taxpayers money. In one variation of that claim published by Breitbart News, each deported household would save taxpayers $700,000. In fact, the opposite is true -- the cost of deporting longstanding undocumented immigrants in the United States would cost more than $114 billion, and according to a report from Center for American Progress, the "cost to the overall economy would likely be far more." Other claims to look out for include: false connections between immigration and African-American unemployment rates; the erroneous claim that immigration decreases American wages and increases unemployment; and the baseless argument that immigrant children are straining American school systems and driving up taxes.

Posted In
Economy, Poverty, Taxes, Elections, Climate Change, Immigration, Immigration Reform
Network/Outlet
CNBC
Stories/Interests
Economy, 2016 Elections
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